No. 490 Squadron RNZAF

No. 490 Squadron RNZAF
No. 490 (NZ) Squadron RAF
Active 28 March 1943 - 1 August 1945
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Allegiance  New Zealand
Branch Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force
Role Maritime Reconnaissance
Motto Māori: Taniwha kei runga
(Translation: "The Taniwha is in the air")[1][2]
Squadron Badge An arm couped below the elbow, holding in the hand a Patu[1][2]
Aircraft flown
Reconnaissance Consolidated Catalina
Twin-enined flying boat;
Short Sunderland
Four-engined flying boat

490 (NZ) Squadron was formed from pilots of the Royal New Zealand Air Force under RAF Coastal Command as an anti-submarine and reconnaissance unit.[1]



490 (NZ) Squadron Royal Air Force, was formed 28 March 1943 with Royal New Zealand Air Force aircrew at Jui near Freetown in West Africa (present Sierra Leone)[1][2] under Wing Commander D.W. Baird. Equipped with PBY Catalinas, the squadron was tasked with maritime patrol and search and rescue. Its first operation was convoy escort on 2 July 1943. In August the squadron rescued its first seamen, and damaged its first U-boat.

Wing Commander B.S. Nicholl took over in November 1943 and oversaw re-equipment with Short Sunderlands in May of the following year. Wing Commander T.S. Gill was its last commander, taking over in October 1944. The squadron flew its last operation on 6 May 1945, and when it became obvious that 490 would not be needed in Japan, the squadron was disbanded on 1 August 1945.[2]

Of all New Zealand squadrons of the RAF, 490 saw least action, but nonetheless flew 463 operational sorties, totalling 4853 hours. One Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded.[3]

The squadron's Māori motto was "Taniwha kei runga" which translates as "Taniwha in the air". Taniwha are mythical intelligent monsters in Māori legend, occasionally but not particularly accurately translated as "dragons". They are often associated with water, but a flying taniwha is relatively unusual.

Aircraft operated

Aircraft operated by no. 490 Squadron RNZAF, data from[1][2][4]
From To Aircraft Version
June 1943 July 1944 Consolidated Catalina Mk.Ib
May 1944 August 1945 Short Sunderland Mk.III

Commanding officers

Officers commanding no. 490 Squadron RNZAF, data from[1][3]
From To Name
June 1943 December 1943 W/Cdr. D.W. Baird, DFC
December 1943 October 1944 W/Cdr. B.S. Nicholl
October 1944 August 1945 W/Cdr. T.F. Gill

Squadron bases

Bases and flying boat stations used by no. 490 Squadron RNZAF, data from[1][5]
From To Base Remark
28 March 1943 1 August 1945 Jui, Sierra Leone
28 March 1943 June 1943 RAF Stranraer Detachment[4]
June 1943 1 August 1945 Fishermans Lake, Liberia Detachment
June 1943 1 August 1945 Apapa, Nigeria Detachment
June 1943 1 August 1945 Abidjan, Ivory Coast Detachment[4]
June 1943 1 August 1945 Bathurst/Half Die, Gambia Detachment[4]

A note on New Zealand Squadrons in the RAF

It is now largely accepted that the seven World War II squadrons of the Royal Air Force manned by New Zealanders are recorded by a formulation such as 486 (NZ) Squadron RAF. However some authors (e.g. Bill Gunston) have used a formulation like 486 squadron RNZAF. Some claim the latter is misleading. RNZAF units were a separate entity, formed and controlled entirely by the RNZAF; all RNZAF units operated in the Pacific Theatre. An anomaly exists in that the official badges of the six New Zealand units units reads (e.g.:) "486 Squadron Royal New Zealand Air Force".[6] However, as Gerard S Morris explains:

Interestingly, this carried over into the naming of the six New Zealand squadrons...It was impractical, for operational and administrative reasons to establish and maintain RNZAF squadrons in Britain. So, although the squadron badges carried the name Royal New Zealand Air Force, the squadrons were in fact receiving their pay cheques from the British government and official records such as the Operations Record Book acknowledged this. For example, 485 Squadron was referred to informally as 485 (New Zealand) or 485 (NZ) and never as 485 Squadron, RNZAF.(italics added)[7]

On December 19, 1939 Article XV was promulgated, creating the Empire Air Training Scheme. Under this article provision was made for the formation of Commonwealth squadrons within the RAF. On 17 April 1941 a further agreement was negotiated allowing for six New Zealand Squadrons to be formed: 485 Sqn., 486 Sqn., 487 Sqn., 488 Sqn., 489 Sqn. and 490 Sqn. These units were manned and (mostly) commanded by New Zealanders trained under the EATS. provisions, although this didn't preclude other nationalities from being members. Administratively the "Article XV squadrons" were an integral part of the RAF, with all command appointments being made by the RAF. Other Dominion or Commonwealth countries involved were Australia and Canada, along with Rhodesia and South Africa.

Many New Zealanders served with mainstream RAF squadrons and several were to become Wing Commanders and Group Captains. Two outstanding New Zealanders to play a vital role in the war, and two of the best commanders in aviation history were Sir Keith Park and Sir Arthur Coningham.




  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918-1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE,BA,RAF (Retd). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Morris, Gerard S. Spitfire, the New Zealand Story. Auckland, New Zealand: Reed Books, 2000. ISBN 0-7900-0696-0.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.

Official New Zealand History (available online)

External links

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